Gamble on Baker pays off

Jason Baker has been quiet and productive this season for the Panthers. And that's just what they wanted out of a punter.

Baker leads the NFC in net punting average at 39 yards per punt and was named a first alternate for the Pro Bowl, verification that Panthers general manager Marty Hurney made the right move when he shipped three-time Pro Bowl selection and eternal headache Todd Sauerbrun to the Denver Broncos in exchange for Baker and a future draft pick.

Even more important, perhaps, is the way Baker has handled himself off the field.

Unlike his outspoken predecessor, Baker hasn't been arrested for DUI, called any other kickers in the league "grease ball," hammered NFL great Ray Guy while proclaiming himself the best kicker in NFL history or been involved in any steroid scandal.

And that's a nice change for the Panthers.

Instead, Baker is a quiet, humble punter who barely smiles and gives all of his credit to his teammates.

"The first statement that I need to make is that I'm not leading the NFC in net punting average, the Panthers punt team is leading the NFC in net average," Baker said. "For me to take more credit for that would not be accurate."

Baker's gross punting average is 43.4, which is slightly lower than 43.7 yards per punt. However, Sauerbrun, who tends to out-kick his coverage, has a net of only 37.8 yards per kick. Sauerbrun has downed 10 punts inside the 20 with eight touchbacks, while Baker has eight punts inside the 20 with three touchbacks.

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